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Boston (Massachusetts) based songwriter Susan Cattaneo has been earning a living as a songwriter for a long while. She spent some time in Nashville writing modern country and has latterly been a teacher of songwriting at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  In the last few years she has revived her recording and performing career and this new album marks something of a turning point in her life. For the first time, she says, she has written songs with herself in mind as the performer and, in doing so, she has embraced a darker, deeper running current than normally to be found in country chart music. This album has its own sound, not quite like anyone else I can think of, but it certainly owes as much to the noir sounds of alt-country as it does to her commercial country training.

Working with a fine selection of musicians under the guidance of producer Lorne Entress, she cultivates a sophisticated sound that seduces the ear with practised skill; each song draws you into its own particular atmosphere and, although she says she starts with the hook when she’s writing a song, nothing here has the easy flow that many Americana writers seem to achieve. Rather, it’s as if each track is a piece of music with story attached; we’re never knocked out by a big chorus or an easy tune but we are engaged by the collective musical intelligence at work. Every now and then I hear something akin to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s work – the self-confident understatement that makes clear the serious intent of the work.

The lyrics are really strong, full of insightful phrases that bring the ‘ouch’ factor to tales of love gone stale that are a bit of a recurring theme here. Her writing has a broad reach:  Lorelei is a murder ballad of sorts, Revival is a wry take on the old phenomenon of the travelling preacher and John Brown revisits the tale of the abolitionist who was the subject of a Civil War marching song. All the way through, her singing impresses tremendously; she has a warm voice which seems to encompass darker lower register sounds as easily as higher, purer sounds. There is a strength and deliberation in her delivery that ensures she is always on top of the song, no matter how full the band sound swelling behind her. I have a nagging feeling that she could really have done with the one killer track that never quite gets delivered; Worth The Whiskey (a tale of one wounded woman’s defiance) could have been it but somehow it ends up a bit under-powered. Occasionally, too, there is a bit of a mis-match between the arrangement of a song and the real pain to be found in the lyrics but, overall, this is an impressive album and Susan Cattaneo, as writer and singer, is an impressive talent. 

John Davy

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April 2018

1
Courtney Marie Andrews
100 pts.
May Your Kindness Remain
Loose Music
PK,CVL,DHO,JB,LK
2
Mary Gauthier
59 pts.
Rifles And Rosary Beads
In the Black Records
 
3
Caleb Caudle
49 pts.
Crushed Coins
Cornelius Chapel Records
TJ,TK,MP
4
Western Centuries
48 pts.
Songs From The Deluge
Free Dirt Records
DD,GS,FS,HM
5
Vivian Leva
44 pts.
Time is Everything
Free Dirt Records
 
6
Ed Romanoff
42 pts.
The Orphan King
Pinerock Records
 
7
Grant Peeples
41 pts.
Settling Scores vol. 2
Continental
AN
8
Joan Baez
32 pts.
Whistle Down The Wind
Proper Records
 
9
Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
29 pts.
Texas, etc...
DollyRocker
MF,HDB
 
Sam Morrow
29 pts.
Concrete and Mud
Forty Below Records
JV
11
Chris Smither
27 pts.
Call Me Lucky
Signature Sounds
JSM,JD
12
Michael McDermott
26 pts.
Out From Under
Continental Song City
CRS
13
John Prine
24 pts.
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records
SP
14
Mary Chapin Carpenter
23 pts.
Sometimes Just The Sky
Lambent Light Records
 
15
Dean Owens
22 pts.
Southern Wind
At The Helm
PJ
16
6 String Drag
21 pts.
Top of The World
Schoolkids Records
FCE,JS
 
Haley Heynderickx
21 pts.
I Need To Start A Garden
Mama Bird Recordings
 
 
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
21 pts.
Tearing At The Seams
Stax Records
RM
19
Abe Partridge
20 pts.
Cotton Fields And Blood For Days
Skate Mountain
MVP,RK
 
Adam James Sorensen
20 pts.
Dust Cloud Refrain
Continental Song City
BM
 
Ben Reel
20 pts.
Land Of Escape
B REEL Records
 
 
Chip Taylor
20 pts.
Fix Your Words
Train Wreck Records
LM
 
Kesia Nagata
20 pts.
Looking For Horses
Caramal Productions
GC,EZ
 
Sheesham & Lotus & 'Son
20 pts.
Clear The Table
SepiaPhone Records
SZ,PG
25
3hattrio
18 pts.
Lord of the Desert
Okehdokee Records
 
 
Marlon Williams
18 pts.
Make Way for Love
Dead Oceans

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